We arrived about 10pm to the sauna city and checked in to our hotel. The city was alive with people doing their exercises in the parks cooler evening air, bars spilling onto the streets and the night just beginning.
Ho Chi Minh city is the name given to this place since Vietnam was reunified in 1975, however it goes by both names. Our hostel was really nice and air con was welcome, even at 11pm!
We emerged from the hostel mid morning to a flurry of activity. On every corner is someone trying to sell you a motorbike, shine your shoes or feed you. The roads are a sea of motorbikes making you reconsider anything you saw in Hanoi. In fact this city is very different to more traditional Hanoi, a mix of skyscrapers and French architecture, this city has a much more westernised feel.
We took a little walk through the park outside our hotel, picked up some street food and to see the city. We took a walk past the Notre Dame Cathedral and into the old post office. I am not really sure why this is on the tourist trail, as it still seems to be a post office, guarded by Uncle Ho.
Next we headed for the war remnants museum. The museum has a large collection of US aircrafts and tanks outside, it does make you think about the huge difference it must make fighting a war on your own soil and the huge amount of evidence and mess which is left behind
The exhibits focused on several elements of the war, the most emotional being the use of chemicals and agent orange in large parts of Southern Vietnam. The photographs highlighted the lasting impact of this war atrocity which still affects so many people today.
From the museum we walked to the cities markets, and undercover hub where anything can be bartered for. Armed with goodies we headed back to the hostel to cool down! In the rush hour traffic, motorbikes were riding along the pavements to jump forward to the lights in static traffic, it was an ordeal.
In the evening we went to the cinema to see Hunger games 2, a rather cheaper experience than England with tickets costing around £2.30 and popcorn for £1! After the film we had a few drinks on our hostels rooftop bar with great views over the city that doesn’t sleep.
We took at day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels around 60km outside of Ho Chi Minh city. At first we watched a short film about Cu Chi villagers and their role during the war. It was home to many Viet Cong fighters and Guerilla warfare. The war film used phrases like “American killer hero” and “ghastly American devils” when describing the war. It talked about the persistent bombing which drove this community underground. We went to look at some of the tunnels. The first you can drop into hands above your head and recover the ground above you, but it is so small! The tunnels, like the Vinh Moc tunnels had three levels, however here they were at 3 metres, 6 metres and 10 metres below ground as the thick clay soil was march harder to excavate. The tunnels we also much smaller and thinner, less a network to live in, more to hide in. We went underground where you would be bent double, at some points crawling! It was hot and hard work. The exit was a welcome site!
They also talked us through the various traps they used in this area, all amateurish in nature but seemingly effective. Pothole traps and swinging doors with nails on, all with decidedly inventive names like “the armpit cutter.” The mounds they had built to get rid of the steam discreetly were still in tact, disguised as termite hills.
We tried some tapioca plant with peanut flavouring, a wartime speciality of the undernourished soldiers here. At the site you can opt to pay and fire the weapons. This adds to the atmosphere of the site as the background shot from an AK47 or rattle from a machine gun certainly makes you realise how deafening and terrifying wartime must have been.
Back in the city we cooled off and went out for a stroll, actually wanting to get our shoes cleaned this time and we couldn’t find anyone anywhere! We had some noodles in a Vietnamese of fast food and then enjoyed a few beers the Vietnamese way, street side on a plastic, child’s size chair. The air was still warm and the atmosphere alive.
After a great few weeks it is goodbye Vietnam, your beautiful cuisine and lovely people. Tomorrow we get the bus for Cambodia!